Reap as you sow

Nobody in the Middle East information technology market is exempt from feeling the brunt of the acute skills shortage in the region.

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By  Sathya Ashok Published  June 25, 2008

Nobody in the Middle East IT market is exempt from feeling the brunt of the acute skills shortage in the region.

The pool of IT talent in the region is limited, and it is from the same pool that everybody has to pick their relevant staff - enterprise and vendor alike. This situation is complicated by the huge dependence on expatriates who come from different parts of the globe and preach different ways of handling any typical IT situation. They are all coached differently, adhere to different standards and when they become part of a mixed IT team in the Middle East, can bring more disorder to the enterprise, in the short term at least.

For a long time, most industry experts have advised that the only way to tackle the ever-increasing problem of skills shortage is to continuously train existing employees. This has several advantages. It gives companies a lot more control over the kind of skills that they have in-house, since they will able to provide training in the specific knowledge areas that are necessary for the organisation, instead of constantly being on the lookout for such talent to appear in the market.

Moreover, putting all IT staff through programmes together can ensure consistency of thought and action between team members. When a problem crops up, the team will work like a team, instead of each one suggesting a different solution based on his or her past experience.

With so many advantages, one would think more Middle East enterprises would willingly take to training their staff. However, that has not been the case so far.

This has been so because training remains a costly affair - that is if the enterprise is serious about it and wants to send its IT staff to the better schools in the region. Additionally, time spent in training often means time spent away from work. In a region, where most projects have deadlines that should have been met yesterday, this is not a luxury that most enterprises are willing to give in to.

Moreover, most of the existing IT staff is picked from a floating population. In other words, they do not stay in one company, or even one country, for too long. Many enterprises believe that training such staff could prove to be a waste of time and money, since they run the very high risk of losing the employee once effort and investment has gone into them.

Since every employee is an important asset to the company, this makes logical sense. An organisation will hope to extract the most from its employees, as much as it does from any product or solution.

However, it is also true, that training can help in employee retention. A staff member, who has gone through rigorous training and has added to his skill base, will feel a bond of loyalty to the company that had sent him for the programme.

This feeling though is not solely based on the training programmes of a company, but is a cumulative effect of how the employee is treated by the organisation as a whole. In other words, how his line manager guides him through his tasks, how HR deals with his queries and how good his prospects are of moving horizontally or vertically in the organisation.

Most Middle East enterprises are yet to establish in their organisations the culture of a helping hand. Most are still centred on getting the most from the employee, and do not understand that adding to the employee's skills and making him feel good about working in the company can aid them in getting more productivity out of him over a longer period of time.

With the high turnover in the region, and the continuing lack of skilled resources, it is about time that enterprises did a rethink of how they treat employees and begin investing in them - not just with training but by also developing a culture of support, encouragement and co-dependence.

In the long run, this will help companies not only battle the skills shortage effectively, but even make them immune to its vagaries. Worth a shot, I would say!

3790 days ago
Kaptain Mirza

Be it any field, marketing to consulting, maturity is yet to be seen. Training is a further improvement, lot remains in between to be desired. I 'survived' in an organisation for 3 odd years, with no increment or appreciation. Only once in 3 years did I get one, not because I was incompetent but that appreciation fact was not interpreted as confident building measure. Appreciation and training helps a lot in creating that loyalty specific bond. If not complete but some, but it would help.

3793 days ago
RB

Thanks for the article, Sathya, and it's appropriately named "Reap as you sow". Companies don't seem to have a problem investing in equipment, land, and other resources, etc. but still have a hard time considering their staff with at least the same importance and worthy of long term investments. The better companies have long figured out that their most important resource is their "human capital" and they make long term commitments to strategically develop and maintain this almost priceless resource. Be it families, organizations, communities, societies, or countries, when leadership is focused on developing the human resource so that it's highest potential can be realized, sustainable prosperity is at least one of the many benefits easily attained. So the call goes out to the leaders of these many organizations - are you the managers ready to finally recognize your staff for what they really are or will you let inertia hold you back from creating the dynamic enterprise you really seek to create? If long term success is what your company is after, the argument is pretty much closed on what the next steps should be in this regard.... Thanks again, Sathya

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